Head injury seizure drug breakthrough by Melbourne researchers

A NEW drug that could one day be given to athletes in sports drinks to prevent epilepsy after a head injury has moved a step closer.

In preclinical trials, Melbourne researchers found the drug could slow the progression of brain changes that cause the disorder, as well as reduce the number and severity of seizures.

The drug has already been shown to be safe and tolerated in humans for other health conditions, so if the promising results are replicated, it could quickly move from the lab to the bedside.

After a severe head injury during sport or in a car accident, the brain can undergo changes that cause the victim to suffer from seizures long after their recovery from the initial trauma.

Royal Melbourne Hospital epilepsy specialist Professor Terence O’Brien said up to half of people who suffered severe head injuries developed epilepsy. In mild head injuries, it affects up to 10 per cent of ­patients.

“It can take several years to manifest, which is why it is such a disabling problem, ­because people have often gone through rehabilitation and gotten their life back together and then the epilepsy appears and they are back to square one,” he said.

Prof O’Brien, also the Head of the University of Melbourne Department of Medicine at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and colleagues found the drug sodium selenate prevented tau proteins building up in the brain and forming toxic tangles in animal models.

The trial results, published in the journal Brain, showed it could slow the progression of changes in the brain and reduce the severity and number of seizures. This ​effect ​persisted after they stopped administering the drug.

Sodium selenate has previously been shown to reduce long-term brain damage and the mental health and cognitive consequences of brain injury in experimental models.

Prof O’Brien said there were many medications to treat the symptoms of epilepsy, but nothing to prevent or reverse it.

“The holy grail for epilepsy is to find a drug that is disease-modifying, but even if this drug made the seizures less frequent and severe it would prevent people from having to take tablets every day and reduce drug resistance developing,” he said.

Targeting the precise therapeutic window to administer the drug will be vital, but it could be a preventive treatment given in a sports drink.